On Jason Kidd and "Win Time", and the Greatest Clutch Lineup on Earth
Like many others, I did not think that the 2008 trade which sent then-almost-35-year-old Jason Kidd from New Jersey to Dallas for then-almost-25 Devin Harris was a good deal for the Mavs, primarily because of the respective ages of the players, and I certainly didn't foresee Kidd helping to fuel a stirring playoff run in 2011, at 38.
Out of the many amazing things in this remarkable playoff spring by the Dallas Mavericks, that's the primary one I keep coming back to: how is Kidd able to even be out there?
As a reminder, if Dallas can get just one more win, Kidd will become the third oldest player to start on a championship team, behind Kareem in 1987 (age 39) and 1988 (40), and will become the oldest guard to do so.
Obviously, being a guard should make it much tougher for a older player to stay on the court athletically, yet Kidd's not only done so, but look at his defensive assignments in the past three series: they've included Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, with some matchups against Kevin Durant after switches. All of them All-NBA First or Second Team players - how is Kidd able to even stay on the floor against these guys at 38? Yet, he's managed to not only survive against these stars but thrive - several of the names mentioned above have been the subject of severe criticism for their play in series vs. Dallas. (Note that Zach Lowe offered typically astute and nuanced analysis of specifically how Kidd has been able to compete against these stars defensively.)
I keep thinking back to the 2010 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, when I covered a panel called What Geeks Don't Get: The Limits of Moneyball, which included Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Here's part of what I reported:
- [Panel moderator Michael] Lewis asked [Rockets GM Daryl] Morey if he believed in clutch stats, long a controversial difference between common fans - who worship the art of the clutch - and statheads - who tend to believe that the idea of clutch statistics are not definitive and conclusive.
Morey artfully answered, "We don't make any decisions based on the belief of that." Interestingly, Cuban disagreed, and said that that was one reason he wanted Kidd, whom he believes plays differently in "win time" than he does in the other 45 minutes of the game.
Still, I'd consider myself "skeptical but open-minded" on the topic. I believe in data where it is applicable, and that's the part that fascinated me: did Cuban (whose stat analyst, Roland Beech, reportedly works as closely with the coaching staff as any in the league) actually have the data to say Kidd was particularly effective in the clutch?
When Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus did an extensive study on team performance in close games (i.e. those decided by five points or fewer) in 2009, he didn't find any clutch magic. As he concluded:
- There are two extreme schools of thought on close games--those that believe they are primarily decided by luck and those that feel they are primarily decided by teams and demonstrate their true ability. Neither position is supported by the data.
Instead, what the results tend to show is that the difference between good teams and bad teams is mitigated in close games.... When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Say you were coaching (or cheering on, if you prefer) an underdog team playing a powerful opponent. If I gave you the opportunity to advance directly to the final five minutes of a close game, even if you were trailing by a couple of points, you would take that scenario because anything could happen over the shorter period. The same logic can be applied to explain why we see more upsets in the one-and-done NCAA Tournament than in the NBA's best-of-seven postseason. The smaller sample draws all teams toward .500
Here are the season-by-season numbers for Dallas:
Season CW CL CW% xCW% DiffIn 2010-11, the Mavs did it again, though not by an excessive margin, with a 17-11 (.607) record in close games which exceeded the .582 percentage which would be expected by a team with Dallas' record in non-close games.
2004-05 14 9 .609 .584 +.024
2005-06 15 7 .682 .586 +.096
2006-07 20 4 .833 .606 +.227
2007-08 9 12 .429 .565 -.137
2008-09 17 5 .773 .519 +.253
2009-10 18 7 .720 .545 +.175
CW/L: Close Wins/Losses
CW%: Winning percentage in close games
xCW% Expected winning percentage in close games
(Back in April, Tom Haberstroh had a great piece which noted that the definition of "close games" should not be based on the final score, but rather, whether a game is close at any time in the last five minutes. Check his chart: by that measure, Dallas' record in close games was an exceptional 35-18 (.660) through April 25 (regular season and playoffs). Since that time, Dallas is 10-3 in such situations, running its overall close-game record to 45-21 (.682).)
Of course, Kidd didn't arrive until February, 2008, so these numbers speak to the Dirk-Terry era as a whole. Still, the measured data shows that Kidd has been exceptional in the clutch for the past two seasons.
According to 82games.com, Kidd led the league in plus/minus in clutch situations (defined as "4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points") in 2010-11 with +119, and ranked fourth in 2009-10 with +87 (note that LeBron James ranked first).
One stat in particular which stands out has been Kidd's three-point shooting in the clutch, at 45% over the last two seasons, as compared to 38% overall.
Kidd has certainly been a key factor in the several stirring comebacks the Mavs have pulled off in the 2011 Playoffs, and a spin of the NBA.com StatsCube shows that the Mavs have outscored their opponents by a staggering +71.1 points per 100 possessions with Jason Kidd on the floor in clutch situations.
Anecdotal examples of big plays by Kidd in the clutch are all over the place. Yes, he knocked down a huge three to put Dallas ahead 105-100 late in Game 5, but many of his clutch plays have been subtle and/or defensive ones (he's averaging 3.6 steals per minutes in playoff clutch situations), such as a deflection of a LeBron pass which ruined a Miami possession with the score 99-97 last night.
There was a strip of Udonis Haslem following a UD offensive rebound in the massive Game 2 comeback which led to a turnover and fast-break hoop to tie the game at 90-90. In Game 4 mega-comeback vs. Oklahoma City, there was a hustle steal after Russell Westbrook appeared to have him beat.
In what I consider one of the most important games of this whole run - Game 1 vs. the Lakers - Kidd harrassed Kobe Bryant with aggressive defense, helping force two turnovers (and then knocking down the last two FTs) in the final minute, turning a 94-92 L.A. lead with 40 seconds left into a 97-94 Dallas win. Kidd also forced Kobe into tough shots down the stretch of Game 3, helping turn defeat into victory there as well. As lopsided as that series seems in memory after the Game 4 blowout, it easily could have been a 2-2 series if not for superior clutch play by Dallas in Games 1 and 3.
Certainly, Jason Kidd has performed exceptionally well in the clutch for Dallas, but take a step back, and an even clearer picture develops: the Mavericks lineup of Jason-Kidd-Jason Terry-Shawn Marion-Dirk Nowitzki-Tyson Chandler appears to be the greatest clutch lineup on Earth.
The numbers bear out that this team has been extraordinary in clutch situations for the past two seasons, reaching new heights in these playoffs. We showed you some selected clutch metrics for Kidd above. Let's integrate some other players.
Here are the 2010-11 league leaders in clutch plus-minus:
- Kidd, DAL +119
Terry, DAL +118
Nowitzki, DAL + 116
Chandler, DAL +92
Westbrook, OKC +90
- Marion, DAL +38
Nowitzki, DAL +38
Kidd, DAL +37
Terry, DAL +37
Williams, CLE/LAC +36
Chandler, DAL + 34
- James, CLE +116
Nowitzki, DAL + 102
Williams, CLE +95
Kidd, DAL +87
Terry, DAL +71
Now that's continued in the Playoffs and Finals, with multiple major comebacks, and a domination of Miami down the stretch, outscoring them 60-26 in the final six minutes of the five games combined. That's a +34 in the last six minutes cumulatively, while Miami has been +30 in the first 42 minutes.
The data backs up this lineup as a whole as well. We noted earlier that Dallas was outscoring its opposition by 71.1 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs in clutch situations with Kidd on the floor. Here are the numbers in that situation for each of the five members of that lineup:
- Marion +83.3 (38 min)
Terry +74.3 (49 min)
Nowitzki +71.8 (50 min)
Kidd +71.1 (50 min)
Chandler +68.7 (48 min)
Also, note that another thing Cuban said at the Sloan Conference was that he thought that one of the biggest edges for him was in understanding 5-man lineup performance. Considering that Beech is the creator of 82Games.com, which is where those clutch +/- stats are from, and that he works directly with the Dallas coaching staff, I'm sure the organization is well aware of these numbers.
Have Mark Cuban and Roland Beech found something here? Have they discovered the ultimate clutch lineup? I included the total minutes as a reminder that these are ridiculously small sample sizes. Note that these same metrics show LeBron James to be a premier clutch performer over the last several seasons, which has not translated to clutch play in these Finals, after he was very clutch vs. Boston and Chicago. Please also note the irony that these same clutch Mavs were victims of one of the greatest playoff comebacks ever, in the Easter Saturday resurrection of Brandon Roy in the first round.
But with multiple years of data piling up - punctuated by this spring's stunning playoff run of comebacks - it's getting hard to conclude anything other than Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd being extraordinary, special clutch players.
And the greatest clutch lineup on Earth could be the difference which delivers a long-coveted title to Cuban, Dirk, Jet, J-Kidd and Dallas fans. They need to do it one more time.
Addendum (Sat. 6/11): I've offered some followup thoughts on clutch, looking ahead to Dallas-Miami Game 6, after reading Kevin Pelton's followup to this post from this morning.
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